Chelsea haven’t been at their best for a while now, but that hasn’t stopped them opening a five point lead over closest rivals Manchester City, who have been found out far too many times this season. Their good performances have proven to be little more than one-offs, and they have faltered in a variety of games: at tough away games like West Ham, Everton and Liverpool to supposedly comfortable opposition at home like Burnley, Hull and Stoke.
Chelsea meanwhile, despite losses to Newcastle and Tottenham, have generally been strong in all types of matches, sometimes playing better than others. Indeed, Chelsea have consistently shown the clichèd “character of champions”. So, as dull as it sounds, the title race may already be over in early March.
Upcoming fixtures: Man City, Burnley (away), West Brom (home), Crystal Palace (away), Man Utd (away), West Ham (home), Aston Villa (home), Tottenham (away), QPR (home), Swansea (away), Southampton (home)
So not too bad for the defending champions then. With the exception of Manchester United at home, one would expect Manchester City to win those games. Yet where Manchester City have fallen down is in these so-called easier games previously mentioned. It can therefore be said that although these games appear easy, Manchester City haven’t got the players willing to dig their team out of the proverbial mud.
In my view, Kompany has been in a slump for a while now, Demichelis isn’t as pacy as he once was, while Mangala has struggled for consistency, perfectly understandable for a player in his first season in England. Without leaders with confidence leading from the back like Kompany and Zabaleta did last year, it is hard to see this team producing the sort of form out of the blue (pardon the pun) to lead them to another title.
Chelsea however, have been solid if rarely spectacular this season. Their advantage over Manchester City has come in the form of an ability to win games without always playing well, and as much of a cliché as that is, it has been true of the blues this season. Their wins at places like Anfield, Upton Park and Goodison Park have been in stark contrast to Manchester City’s timid play at those grounds. A few years ago, many of the title challengers would have been a part of such performances, but only Chelsea have given them consistently this season.
Fundamental to this has been their defence, a back line largely consisting of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Azpilicueta have proved formidable at times, protected by the dynamism and balance offered by Nemanja Matić. Such a balance alongside Fàbregas has proven far better and more consistent than that used by Manuel Pellegrini, Fernando taking a while to settle, Fernandinho not always being a regular starter, while Yaya Toure has proven far more effective up the pitch. For this again, lack of consistency and assurance in City’s team, this title race may be over by late April.
Manchester City, and in particular, Manuel Pellegrini, may end up ruing some of their early season displays. Slack, perhaps arrogant and or naive, it was not a City who looked like they had just won the league. Away to Chelsea they were up against a top XI nonetheless as one would expect, but the Blues had just beaten Liverpool 2-1 after a gruelling 30 minutes of extra time so to see City produce so little that game in what ended as a 1-1 draw perhaps sums their season up: a lack of drive and inspiration at times.
Is there a huge difference in quality between the two sides which puts the title race on the brink of being over in mid-March? I don’t think so, with Agüero, Yaya Toure and David Silva this is a City side with experience and quality alike, but they have lacked the consistency and perhaps even desire at times this season. Perhaps “over” is too strong as we said that in 2012 at this stage and were left eating our words in shock come May, but this City team looks too shaky and Chelsea look too long in the tooth for any late twist this season.
Written by Joshua Sodergren
Follow Joshua on Twitter @JoshSalad365
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